Pianist Barbara Higbie is not only a historied keyboardist but her early work with Darol Anger on the hallowed now-defunct Windham Hill label is one of the reasons for that imprint's early success and continuation. Considering WH was one of the few indy startups that became something of a household word without having breathed life as a sub-label in one of the mainstream's perpetual attempts to capture and co-opt whatever new wrinkles happened to appear as genres arose and fell, that's saying quite a bit. She also has worked with artists as near and familiar as Bonnie Raitt and Cris Williamson and then as eccentric and brilliant as Terry Riley and the Kronos Quartet. Quite a spread. You don't gain those kinds of alliances by having the simplistic chops of, say, a Steven Halpern. Of course, it also helps that Higbie's a bit of an instrumental allsorts and in other ventures sings, plays violin (does so on half the cuts here as well), and slings a guitar…besides her Grammy-nominated composing skills.
The focus in Scenes from Life is clearly on Higbie and her work via a Yamaha CFIIIS Concert Grand, a Steingraeber Concert Grand, and one other unnamed keyboard, all of which emit full, rich, well defined sonorities. The 13 tracks to Scenes were created following a film score assignment for an abandoned movie based upon the Tucker Malarkey novel Resurrection. You won't get pyrotechnics in Higbie's work, she's not the sort of person to score an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, but instead—here underscored by strings by the acclaimed ex-Kronos cellist Joan Jeanrenaud (here) and Aryeh Frankfurter (violin, viola, cello)—spunky or contemplative pastorales, classicalist-oriented ditties, comps with rag or Celtically influenced airs, and so on, everything very much agreeable to cinema and atmospherics.
My favorite track is VW Bug, which favors a bright, animated, repetitive structure larking about on a sunny summer's day. It's followed, however, by the equally interesting Variations on a Happy Ending in which an autumnal shading is discernable, that interim in September in which the air cools, leaves turn, and the last hoorah is had before snow approaches from just over the horizon. Then there are the puzzlers, as in Irreducible Mind, a zen concept well embodied in floating minimalist succinctness, an exercise in austere beauty and gentle enigma, but is it really a zen gig? Or is it just philosophical? A statement of isolated aesthetics? And what do we make of the arch overtones popping up amid the Satie-vian picturesqueness? I'm not saying, neither is Higbie, and that's one of the games we play with art. Sometimes the meaning is as plain as the nose on our collective face; other times, it seems we're watching ourselves from a distance and wondering who we are. More than a little of both occurs in this release.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles